Patrick Crozier at Transport Blog links to a piece about the perennial tendency of all concerned to prefer railways to cars, except where their own personal travelling arrangements are concerned. Cars take you where you want to go. Trains can’t take you to almost any of the places you want to go. Work is spread out in the suburbs. Trains can’t be spread out in the suburbs, because they only stop at stations. If you could jump off trains at any point, the way you can jump off the old London double decker buses with the wide-open back doors whenever they slow down, and if trains did slow down quite often, then trains would be much more convenient things. But you can’t do any of that.
So, people actually use cars. But what they vote for and politick for is trains. People don’t like cars, in the sense of liking their combined effect. They prefer the train system to the car system.
Why? Whence the train fascination? Why does even Transport Blog obsess about trains, when trains are such economically stupid things compared to cars?
Part of the answer is surely aesthetic. Trains go in those lovely elegant curves. Trains don’t get stuck in train jams and produce nothing but fumes for twenty minutes. (They do get stuck from time to time. But mostly they don’t get stuck.) Above all, trains don’t need huge, huge train parks to park in. They just carry on trundling around.
Cars, on the other hand, have turned a substantial percentage of the surface of the earth into a place whose only purpose is to be purposeful. The biggest bridges and the most intricate motorway interchanges have genuine beauty and grandeur. But most car infrastructure is every bit as dull and clunky and messy and uninspiring as the word infrastructure itself is.
In particular, car parks are an almost total aesthetic negative, in most people’s eyes. Car parks pave paradise. The more exciting a building is, the greater the price that seems to have to be paid in meaningless tarmac expanse surrounding it. And which is now uglier: a full car park or an empty car park? You tell me.
But it doesn’t have to be like this. Car parks aren’t just ugly; they are aesthetic no-go areas. By this I mean that mostly they are not just ugly, but are places where no attempt is now made to make them look beautiful. It is simply accepted in our culture that whereas it makes sense to try to make an office block or a sports stadium or a appartment building look cool and dandy and the sort of thing that people would want to take photos of, car parks are just incurably awful places, and we just have to put up with them and make them as un-huge as we can.
Well, correction. Trees are often planted in among car parks. But to believe that only trees can beautify a car park is, in a way, to accept the very point I am saying should be challenged. Do we really have to accept that the only way to make tarmac surfaces look good is to punch little holes in it and allow weedy, smoke encrusted and apologetic little plants to peep through (and then shed leaves everywhere)? Cannot a car park, by virtue of its own carparkness, be as beautiful in its own right as a tree?
Car parks could look great, surely.
Anyway, what I would like to see is a serious attempt by architects and designers to make car parks into things of beauty, and a quite deliberate acceptance of the fact, which it surely is, that doing this would amost certainly mean spending extra money.
But so what? There is no law that says that a car park should not be so amazing that people would actually visit it, and pay extra to park in it and to photograph their car in it, and buy picture postcards of it seen from the air the way they do of the Sydney Opera House or St Paul’s Cathedral. In the hands of a great designer, could not a car park be paradise?
For people who are supposed to ‘worship the motorcar’, we sure are crap at building car cathedrals.
Two general suggestions. One: as per Sydney Opera House, think curves. Avoid rectangles. This actually makes driving sense. The sharp right angle turn saves space, of course it does. But it is not fun to drive in sharp turns. Curves make driving sense. And of course curves give you all kinds of chances to make places that look great.
Two: spend money to get away from total flatness. At present, aesthetics tends to forbid turning hills into car parks, because hills are too beautiful thus to ruin, even if a car park carved into a hillside might be a lot nicer. So build slopes and hills and intersecting ramps. Advantage: tourists can take good three-d photos without having to hire helicopters or climb towers. Eventually, places with frankly rather drab looking lumps of earth (hills) would be asking successful car park designers to turn their boring earthly protuberances into groovy car parks.
Questions. First, of course: am I, approximately speaking, on to something? Two: are there already examples in the world of car parks built in the manner I suggest, with the kind of aesthetic and financial exuberance I would like to see? Surely yes. Three: are there any rejected or fantasy car park designs along the lines I suggest? Surely yes again. Pictures and links to pictures appreciated.